On Wednesday, June 18, 2014, White House Press Secretary Jay Carney delivered his final briefing from the podium in the Brady Briefing Room, striding onto that stage for the final time to the strains of Guided By Voices’ “Motor On.” As he takes his next steps back into private life, we remember some of our favorite moments covering the Carney-era White House.
Carney gave his first briefing as Press Secretary on Feb. 16, 2011, and quickly became known for his deliberate, non-aggressive style, best exemplified by his signature catchphrase, “I appreciate the question.” In stark contrast to Robert Gibbs, he was reluctant to give up a sound bite, and was very cautious about staying on-message.
In addition to his lower-key presence at the podium, Carney was also possessed of a subtler wit. I can’t be sure of this, but I don’t think there are many White House press secretaries who have dropped George Carlin references into their responses on budgetary matters.
Along the way, Carney used his experience as a journalist to put his footprint on that podium, notably around the time of the first debt ceiling crisis. At the time, I described him as coming alive like Peter Frampton on a defibrillator, but that was nothing compared with the run he began last spring, when the Scandalabra™ machine got revved up by a gullible and irresponsible media. It was his authority as a former member of the press corps that Carney leveraged, to great effect, in forging his identity as a spokesman.
So, in honor of his departure from the field of briefing room battle, here are White House Press Secretary Jay Carney’s Greatest Hits.
Walk-Off Home Run
This may not have been Carney’s best quip (it’s up there), but coming, as it did, on his last day at the podium, his zing — “Which president was he talking about?” — of former Vice President Dick Cheney was reminiscent of Ted Williams’ solo shot in his final at-bat. Asked by ABC News’ Jon Karl to respond to Dick Cheney’s Wall Street Journal op-ed, which had all the self-awareness of a busted HAL 9000, Carney delivered a deadpan drone strike to the former Veep:
Carney Blows Ed Henry’s Mind
In the latest iteration of the #Benghazi “smoking gun email,” some reporters wondered why Ben Rhodes would brief Susan Rice about protests in the Muslim world over an offensive video. When it was Ed Henry’s turn, Carney flipped the script, and stumped Henry with a question about protests that his own network covered. These weren’t the droids Henry was looking for.
When Karl “Turd Blossom” Rove tried to make hay about Hillary Clinton’s head injury, Carney was there to remind everyone just how well Bush’s Brain actually works. “Here’s what I would say about cognitive capacity,” Carney said, “which is that Dr. Rove might have been the last person in America, on election night, to recognize and acknowledge that the President had won reelection, including the state of Ohio, so we’ll leave it at that.”
No Good Deed Goes Unpunished
At a December 5, 2011 briefing, Carney was feeling charitable, and decided to call on infrequent questioner Les Kinsolving of World Net Daily. For his trouble, he was rewarded with a question about a subject which, to my knowledge, had never been broached in the briefing room before (it’s better if I don’t spoil it). A week later, Jake Tapper used the incident as an excuse to bitch about Carney’s popular habit of skipping around the room. Carney’s reaction to Les’ question is priceless, but so is the way he stands up to Tapper.
Silence Is Golden
Sometimes, Carney said more when he said nothing at all. In October, after Fox News’ Ed Henry crossed the line by suggesting that the White House didn’t care about death benefits for military veterans, he pointedly ignored Henry at the next briefing, and Henry responded by walking out in the middle of a reporter’s question.
During last fall’s government shutdown and debt ceiling fight, ABC News’ Jon Karl interrupted Carney to jump to the defense of House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio), insisting that Boehner had not said something he pretty clearly had said. When Karl wouldn’t wait his turn, Carney busted him by getting an instant fact-check from the reporter who asked the question in the first place.
You’re Out Of Order! You’re Out Of Order!
You could fill pages and pages with examples of Carney calling reporters out for lying, editorializing, grandstanding, and otherwise engaging in dumbshittery, but for sheer entertainment value, you really can’t beat his open mockery of ABC News Chief Benghazi Cultist Jon Karl’s theatricality, the hamminess of which would shame the spawn of Drunk Al Pacino and Porky Pig.